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Talko Brings Voice Back to the Conversation

If I were to tell you that I found an app aimed at changing the way we converse, would you be surprised at this point?

It's truly an exciting, dynamic time for communications technology. New communications-oriented startups are popping up right and left, a shift toward software-defined anything is underway, browser-based real-time communications is on the rise as WebRTC gains traction, and it seems like we might be in the midst of a messaging/productivity application craze -- as is evidenced by the attention applications like Slack, Glip, HipChat, Spark, and, of course, Talko are getting as of late.

Honestly, the list of app providers goes on and on. (Check out the recent slideshow on cloud-based team collaboration tools from Ovum analyst Brian Riggs for a look at some of these apps and other rising stars in the collaboration scene.) But Talko stands apart from the rest with its unique approach to communication. Like many other new collaboration apps, Talko offers messaging and chat -- but unlike these other tools, that's not its emphasis. Rather, Talko considers calling and conferencing as its key features. As the company states on its website, Talko provides a "better way for mobile teams to communicate ... For your eyes, ears and voice -- not just your thumbs."

Last September, Kelcor research analyst Matt Krebs took a deep dive into the then recently released application, Talko, and discussed how founder and former Microsoft chief software architect, Ray Ozzie, aims to shift the way we use our phones and voice.

"Talko has me thinking about new possibilities for voice (more so than usual) because it has made voice paramount in its design," Krebs wrote. "Talko has some features built naturally into its interface design that can change what we expect from voice communication."

Well, September was eight months ago -- which is practically an eternity in the fast-paced world of application development -- so I thought it made sense to check back in with Matt Pope, Talko co-founder and product lead, for an update.

Voice is "the most purposeful way to talk," Pope said, explaining one of the ideologies behind Talko's creation. This statement seems logical, although Pope does take a different approach to voice than what many people these days seem to be saying: that the new Millennial workforce is all about chat/messaging, and the demise of the deskphone is pending. But Talko includes a "whole set of features designed to help people be more productive with voice," he added, which gives credence to claims that the voice market as a whole is evolving.

"The phone is still the first device," Pope said, "but it does come with a new work style." That new work style is mobile, which is where Talko has received much of its early traction: in role-based segments and on-the-go employees.

One of Talko's interesting success stories has been with Louisiana State University's admissions team, which adopted the app shortly after its launch. I spoke with Brandon Guillory, a regional admissions counselor for LSU, about how the app has made a difference with the team.

The team comprises about 20 regional admissions counselors who are spread out across the country. Getting everyone together for a weekly conference call, conducted via traditional bridge or Skype, was challenging given unique schedules and different time zones. So after team members received LSU-issued iPhones and the supervisor came across the app, they thought why not give something new a try.

After playing around with Talko for a few days, they decided to try a test call with all of the admissions counselors -- and that was really all it took, Guillory told me. The LSU admissions team has been using it ever since.

The team found several of Talko's features particularly appealing, Guillory said. To start, in a conference call, the app not only shows all participants but also who is speaking, via a color-coded display that is both "visually appealing" and "user friendly," he commented. In a call with as many as 20 people, this is immensely valuable, because as well as you might know the sound of your coworkers' voices, differentiating speakers in larger groups can be tricky. Second, Talko allows image sharing during calls, so if admissions counselors need to discuss certain data they can easily share the files from their devices while the call is going on.

But the most valuable feature has proven to be call recording, which the team uses for pretty much every call, Guillory said. All calls and corresponding media content are, by default, recorded on Talko servers. With LSU's particularly distributed team, getting on the same schedule was like fighting a losing battle. With the recording feature, if certain team members are unable to make a meeting, they can easily catch up. And since any files shared during the call are carried over to the recording as well, team members can truly make sure nothing was missed. Today Talko users can upload images from their iPhones, but the company intends to support other data sources in later releases.

Besides the ability to upload other content types, Talko also plans to expand beyond the iPhone and is working on a release for the Android operating system as well as on a Web app, Pope said. Based on user request, Talko also has plans to remove the cap of 25 conference participants in place with the current version, he said.

To further promote team collaboration, Talko sees integration with other communications and productivity tools as a must, Pope added. To that end, Talko recently released Slack integration in beta, and Pope said plans are in the works to integrate with Salesforce so users can initiate calls from within a Salesforce record. Lastly, he said, Talko plans to offer a paid version of the app later this year.

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